Laurene Powell Jobs says people have been misinterpreting one of Steve Jobs’ most famous quotes for years

Laurene Powell Jobs. Steve Jennings/Getty Images
  • One of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ most famous quotes,”Make a dent in the universe,” has been misinterpreted, Jobs’ wife and philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs said to The New York Times.
  • The quote is actually about believing you have the ability to “manipulate the circumstances,” she said.
  • Jobs said the famous line during a 1985 interview with Playboy, and a version of the quote also appeared in a TV movie about Jobs’ rivalry with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
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Apple co-founder Steve Jobs has many famous quotes, as countless articles have documented over the years.

But according to Laurene Powell Jobs, his wife and founder of the philanthropic organisation Emerson Collective, one of his most well-known quotes is often misinterpreted, she told The New York Times’ David Gelles in a recent interview.

“People love to quote him, ‘Put a dent in the universe,'” she said to The Times. “But that’s too flippant. It’s too cavalier.”

The quote can be traced back to an interview with Playboy in 1985 when Jobs, who died in 2011, was discussing the culture of Apple. At the time, he told Playboy’s David Sheff the following (emphasis our own):

“At Apple, people are putting in 18-hour days. We attract a different type of person – a person who doesn’t want to wait five or 10 years to have someone take a giant risk on him or her. Someone who really wants to get in a little over his head and make a dent in the universe. We are aware that we are doing something significant. We’re here at the beginning of it and we’re able to shape how it goes. Everyone here has the sense that right now is one of those moments when we are influencing the future.”

An altered version of that quote also appears in the 1999 made-for-TV movie “Pirates of Silicon Valley,” which centered on the rivalry between Jobs and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

“We’re here to make a dent in the universe,” actor Noah Wyle says during the film’s opening sequence in his role as Jobs. “Otherwise, why even be here?”

Over the years, the “make a dent in the universe” line has become one of Jobs’ most iconic quotes. Some have interpreted itas inspiration to live a life filled with purpose. But according to Powell Jobs, the quote is more about believing you have the ability to change a given situation.

“He was thinking of it as, ‘We are able, each of us, to manipulate the circumstances,'” she told the Times. “I think about it as looking at the design of the structures and systems that govern our society, and changing those structures.”

Read Powell Jobs’ full interview at The New York Times.